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Just call me Frank: Is Pope Francis the most down-to-earth ever?


First he named himself Francis (of down-with-the-poor Assisi fame) offering an impression of humility only enhanced by his uncanny likeness to Jim Bowen.

Then he toned down his wardrobe, ditching red shoes for black and fur collars for a modest ivory cassock. Then he phoned his local newsagent in Buenos Aires, where, as archbishop, he used to travel by bus, to cancel his own newspaper deliveries.

Now the least popey Pope in papal history has taken a break from informal public addresses and walkabouts to reveal where he’d like to live. Or, crucially, where he’d like not to live, namely the Papal penthouse, as it is not officially known. There’ll be no 16th-century polished marble floors or roof terrace with unmatched views of Rome for the world’s most powerful primate; Francis is giving up his rightful place in the opulent upper floors of the Apostolic Palace to live in a Vatican hotel, taking meals in a communal dining room.

Since his election Pope Francis has settled into relatively basic lodgings at the Domus Santa Marta a temporary residence next to St Peter’s Basilica.

Today, his spokesman said he planned to remain there for the foreseeable future, sharing corridors with fellow cardinals. It’s not quite like Ed Miliband eschewing No.10 for the Westminster Travelodge (there isn’t one) but the move breaks with a century of tradition. It also completes a dramatic about-turn in the papal approach to the trappings of high office.

Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, was known in Italian media as the Prada Pope thanks to his custom-made red slippers. After his election in 2005, he also commissioned 200 architects and specialist builders to renovate the appartamento pontificio, home to all Popes since Pius X moved in back in 1903. He installed a high-spec German kitchen and restored the vast marble library to house his collection of 20,000 books.

But the Popes of yore made even Benedict’s taste seem modest. Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to decorate his personal chambers (while also setting Michelangelo to work on a certain ceiling) and it was in his chambers that Pope Pius IX conceived a brooch in his own image crafted in diamonds.

If he is tempted to return to official lodgings, Francis may wish to restore their pre-Benedictine decor. Before the apartments were given their makeover, Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi, a friend of the late John Paul II, called them gloomy and sombre, comparing the chairs to “the ones my aunt had in the suburbs of Warsaw”.